The Terrible Difference of Now

Now we are in the final days before Christmas. Our houses are filled with candle light and the smell of Christmas cookies. We are rushing through the department stores in search of the perfect presents and let’s hope we don’t forget anyone. We spend hours planning the Christmas meal. After a long and busy year we just long for a few quiet days with family, rest and peace.
This is our now. Continue reading “The Terrible Difference of Now”

The Joy of Giving

December 6th is a special day in the German Advent tradition.
In memory of St Nicholas – a kind bishop from the Middle East – we celebrate kindness and surprise people with little gifts. For the children it is sheer joy to put out their little boots at night and find them full of nuts, clementines and candy in the morning.

Continue reading “The Joy of Giving”

Golden Rain Drops

Anja and I met in church about five years ago. Whenever you need someone spontaneous for a movie night, a beer on the city wall or just a good talk – Anja is the person to call. She finds the most interesting events and has surprised me more than once. And she is one of the most encouraging people I know. Today I am lucky to have her on the blog and share a little bit about her work as a nurse.

Continue reading “Golden Rain Drops”

And Yet

Just one small candle, its flame hardly seen against the bright blue sky.
But it was there.
Making a statement.

Twenty something students and I had just visited a concentration camp to get a first hand experience what our dark past had been like. The memories of torture, suffering, and death where looming over the hill. The lives of so many who had died here were still somehow present.
And now we were here to remember them.

It was an eerie feeling.
These people had died at the hands of those who no longer seemed to be people.
They were animals.
They had taken away whatever humanity had still been left in the victims and treated them like a piece of waste.
No dignity, no honor, just shame.


We remember those who suffered in the past, but realize the suffering of today as well.
The people who are forced into slave labor.
The people who suffer in prostitution or the porn industry.
The many refugees who wait at the gates of Europe and are met with nothing but hatred and spite.
The people who don’t fit into our little view of the world and we so often judge.

People are still cruel today.
Humanity and dignity is lost in so many places.

And yet.

One small candle makes a difference.
As more and more people light candles we come closer together.
We are all individuals, but we are also all together.
And together we can make this dark world a little brighter, a little better.

Writing for Five Minute Friday today.

I Wish Someone Had Told Me This A Year Ago

It sounded so familiar.

“I am overwhelmed by everything, there is so much to do and I am so exhausted.”
” I feel like I am not good at anything anymore. Teaching is really hard and I am not sure I can do it.”
” Is it ever going to get better?”

Honest words from friends who just started teaching. They are full of exhaustion, questions, despair.
They could’ve easily been a replay of my own mind and heart just a few short months ago when I felt the exact same.
I was lost in the sea of new experiences and tasks.
I was overwhelmed by the challenges a new job brings.
I was exhausted by the new schedules that were so far from my own rhythms.
I was anxious that this would never end and I wouldn’t ever feel okay again until I retired.

Most of us have been in the situation of starting a new job. No matter if you’re a teacher or a doctor or an accountant – it’s a major step in your life and doesn’t go by without any side effects.
We struggle with new schedules and tasks. We get to know a lot of new things and people. We worry how our future will look like.

A year later I have to say that it does in fact get better.
It’s different now.
The journey from there to here wasn’t easy and took a lot of growing up.
Often, growth just takes a bit of time. But as I look back I sometimes wish that someone had come alongside me and told me a few things. Not to make everything easy, but to help me understand what was happening.

Starting a Job Is a Big Deal
When you get engaged, people congratulate you. But they also give you advice: “This is a big deal, you should take a preparation course. There’s books and premarital counseling.”

When you announce you’re pregnant, people congratulate you. But they also dish out well-meant advice and tips: “A kid will change your life forever, you should take a course. There’s books and classes.”

Life is marked by changes and transitions. Marriage or children remind us that we cannot just be the same, that we actually need to evolve and grow. That we sometimes need to lose ourselves when we’re pulled up and replanted into a completely new environment. That we need to rediscover ourselves once in a while and add new features to the old self.
Changes in life mold and strengthen us.
And it’s good to know about it and prepare for it because these changes certainly don’t come without a good deal of pain and questions and hardships.

Well, what about when you start your first job ever? When you leave behind the flexible schedule of university and submit to a routine you can’t alter? When you become independent from your parents’ or state support and need to take care of bills, insurance etc.? When you’re under pressure to do a job well because your next paycheck depends on it?
Starting a job is a big change as well.  No, you don’t have a new partner. No, there’s no child waiting for your attention. But you still cannot remain the same. So yes, it’s a big deal and you should expect challenges during the transition.

Get to Know the New ‘Culture’
I have lived in several countries and interacted with different cultures. What actually happens during such a transition?
Moving to a different country is definitely exciting as you get to experience different climate, food, languages and people. This is the ‘honeymoon phase’ when everything’s new and exciting. Take it all in and enjoy.

There’s no fixed time, but after a while the novelty wears off and you get a peek into real life in a new culture. Things begin to annoy you, people are suddenly unnerving, and you start to miss things from home. This is the ‘depression phase’ when you feel like you don’t know who you are anymore. You’ve been pulled up from your familiar place and replanted into completely new soil. Instead of excitement there’s anger and doubt and fear. All you want to do is leave.

But as you fight and struggle through the strangeness of this new life you begin to realize that you are still the same. That you can actually survive in this new environment. That people are okay and can teach you something. That it’s worthwhile to incorporate new elements into your culture. This is the ‘resettlement phase’ when all the hardships have paid off and actually led to growth in a new place.

Entering the working world is like entering a new culture. You’re still in the same country, you still speak the same language. Yet, you’re completely lost in this new environment. You have no idea how to be and behave in this new culture, the work culture. So don’t underestimate this process and rather treat it as a cultural transition. This discovery alone moved worlds for me last year because it made the following process much easier.

Take Your Time
When you move into a different culture you wouldn’t expect to be all settled in within a few weeks. Why would you expect that you could adjust to a completely new lifestyle that fast? photo-1445109673451-c511bb51bd17
Take your time to get to know the new culture and how you’re supposed to act in it. Observe how people interact and deal with things. Pay attention to the little tricks here and there that might make a big difference. Don’t judge but be willing to learn something new. Open yourself up to new people and experiences.

Allow your emotions to run high and admit that things just suck sometimes.
Permit yourself to feel lost and to make mistakes at first. No one is perfect from the start.
Take things step by step. Celebrate the little victories and move on to bigger things.
Focus on tomorrow, not next week.

Seek Help
Thousands of people have made the transition into work before, they just sometimes forget to tell us about it. Things have become so natural for them that they don’t remember how hard it was at first.
Asking for help is no sign of weakness. Often it takes just one brave person who’s willing to share how things really look like that helps others to share as well. We’re stronger together, so don’t try to keep up a straight face when all you feel is lost.
Seek the company of people who are in similar situations because they’re the only ones who know how you truly feel. Friends where you don’t have to explain or justify a whole lot.
But don’t stop there. Spend time with people outside your ‘job bubble’ to get your mind off things. Don’t allow your mind to be stuck in the ever-running/condemning spiral of ‘I still have so much work to do.’

Fight for Rest
Settling into a new culture is exhausting in every aspect. I never imagined that I would be physically tired from meeting so many new people. Similarly to babies who are worn out by getting to know the world, it takes a lot of mental and physical energy to learn new names and strategies. Our body has to adjust to new sleeping/working/eating patterns and this takes its toll.


So don’t expect that you can just continue like before. Allow your body time to adjust and give it the rest it needs.
Sleep well and enough.
Eat well.
Plan your time well, so that you actually have time to rest after all the work.
Schedule in time slots when it’s all about rest. This can be very active. Find an activity that takes your mind off work and refocuses you on the really important things in life.
This really is a fight, but if you lose it or put it off (‘I can rest later’) you’ll eventually be too burned out to do anything at all.

Focus on the Truth 
There will always be people who are better at their job. There will always be colleagues who are ahead of you. There will always be others who seem to have the right to look down on you and judge you.
Yes, being a newbie does mean baby steps again.
Yes, you do make mistakes at the beginning.
Yes, there is a lot to learn.
Yes, you’ll fall down and fail.
But you are not a failure. Not.a.failure.
There are things about you that no job you do or don’t do could ever change. Don’t allow anyone to take that away from you. Don’t compare yourself to others, this won’t get you anywhere but despair.

Starting a new job is part of life and eventually we all have to take that step. There’s no recipe to make it all easier, but knowing about the transition might make it a little smoother.
What were your first steps in the working world like? How did you cope with the transition? What would you add to help newbies with the transition?

It’s Different Now

About a year ago I wrote about my first weeks into the new teaching job. I wondered how I didn’t know who I was anymore because life had changed so much in a few months.

A year ago our school had a winter sports day and I went ice skating with 250 students. I had been at the school for a week and didn’t really know anyone, so it was pretty awkward standing at the ice rink watching students I didn’t know the names of, together with teachers I had just met. Conversations were rare and circled mostly around job-related questions or people kept to themselves. We were the new ones.

photo-1447702027526-66133549fbd7This was a year ago.

A few weeks ago we had the same winter sports day and once again I went ice skating. Mostly the same teachers, maybe even the same students.
But it was different this time.
I was standing at the rink, talking to other teachers. They aren’t strangers anymore, they are colleagues. Some of them even friends.
We shared the latest news, exchanged teaching ideas. We laughed at the students on the ice because we knew the stories behind the faces.

“Mrs vD, look at me! I just learned to skate!”
“ Can you take a picture of me?”
“Mrs vD, why aren’t you on the ice? You have to join us!”

So I did. And I was treated with smiling faces of some happy students.

What has changed in that one year?

Yes, I still have to get up quite early, and many mornings it’s a real struggle to get myself out of bed. But I have learned to appreciate the early mornings and have been blessed with so many beautiful sunrises, God’s abundant gift of generosity.

Yes, I am still tired a lot and can’t always stay up late. But I have learned to manage my time well so that work can be done in a reasonable amount of time. I am surprised that lesson planning and all the teaching work does get faster as I gain more experience. I have discovered that I do in fact have time for friends and hobbies. That I have to make time for these in order to remain sane and spiritually healthy.


Yes, I have had to cut short some relationships and my inbox is still ridiculously full with emails of dear friends waiting to hear from me. I have mourned how some relationships have changed over the years. But I have learned that I can also meet great people in new places. I have made some interesting connections with colleagues in the course of the year, they have helped me a lot settle in to this new routine and life. God is present in my mundane, and I often see Him in other people.

Yes, teaching is exhausting. You get the hang of lesson plans and how to be creative in like no time. but there’s still the people. No matter how good your ‘script’ is, it can all fall to pieces when your class doesn’t get what you mean or just has a bad day.


A group of 20-30 youngsters is a bunch of lifestyles, opinions and knowledge and it’s quite an interesting challenge to work with them each week. Each class is different and you can’t predict what’ll happen. This is scary and exciting at the same time.

Most of all, though, the classes are full of people.
Individual human beings, each with their unique biography and life story.
A story that deserves to be heard.

photo-1457369804613-52c61a468e7dA lesson passes by so quickly and time to listen, really listen, is rare.
I only get to see bits and pieces of my students, but once in a while they allow me a glimpse inside their heart. And I can’t help but find myself wanting to talk to them, to listen and discover more.
These are no longer people I don’t know or some strange kids. These are my kids.


Yes, life has certainly changed quite a bit in the last year.
I have learned so much about life and work and other people.
In all of this, I still know who I am. I am still me, there are just a few new features in my life now.
While some aspects of the job will always be a struggle for me and I won’t always enjoy it, I have discovered that people are the real adventure. They make all the difference.

A Piece of Home

I just spent a few days with my grandmother.
She lives in a small village, and when I say small I really mean small. About one hundred people live there, only ten of them are below fifty years old.
We used to live there for a year, a very challenging year I have to say. After two years in the African jungle we ended up in this small village with not much to do. The bus runs twice a day – to school in the morning and back in the afternoon. People go to church on Sundays and to the pub on weeknights, that’s it.
I have to be honest, I was quite happy when we moved to a bigger town after a year.

Once in a while, though, I return to visit my grandma and most of the time it’s rather dull. Still the same nothingness. You have to plan your trip carefully if you come by train because the bus doesn’t run very often.
It sometimes feels like traveling into the middle of nowhere.

Entering my grandma’s house is like stepping out of your normal busy life into a quiet zone. It’s like life’s busyness stops all at once, it can’t get through that old wooden door.
I had never been able to define what awaits you inside until now.
There’s a calmness and peace which seems boring on the surface; yet, only when you enter you realize how desperately your soul needs exactly that.

A kitchen with an old oven. The smell of freshly cut wood. A warmth that creates a homely atmosphere immediately.
A table in a sunlit corner of the room, surrounded by an old wooden bench and chairs. Lots of chairs to accommodate the many visitors coming by.
The constant smell of coffee and some cake, which Gran can pull out of the most unexpected corners.

An old wooden staircase whose boards creek unless you know where to step. It leads you to two rooms, both older than everyone in the family. It’s hard to find electric sockets, they just didn’t exist when these rooms were built.
The floor made of old beams shimmering so brightly from decades of cleaning, waxing and trodding on them.
A huge bed made of dark wood with thick down feathers and a large cupboard attached to it. Give me one person who wouldn’t want to jump from the cupboard right into the soft covers. It’s just too tempting and we’ve been scolded way too many times for giving in.

Another small steep staircase takes you to the attic, the best part of the entire house. For years and years it has been the storeroom for whoever doesn’t have any space in their own house.
The perfect treasure hideout for kids.IMAG1294 Old cupboards, chairs, clothes, lamps. Each of them once belonged to uncles and aunts, great cousins and grandfathers. Each of them has a story to tell. Even though I’m all grown up now I still enjoy going up there, taking a trip down memory lane. Looking at the different pieces of furniture or clothing and imagining the story behind them. These dust-covered objects are way more than objects – they are a conduit into sweet memories of the past.

And then there’s grandma, of course.
A small roundish lady with a bun and a colorful apron. Her long black hair is spotted with gray and white streaks; her hands and face are lined with wrinkles.
She looks beautiful.
Beautifully, gracefully old. Immensely alive.
Her eyes are still full of fire and energy, and when she laughs you can see the joy in them.

She used to be a wild girl.
As the second youngest of four children she explored life and rebelled against boundaries to discover more about the world. She married a boy from the next village, she says it was love at first sight. She worked hard, running a farm, cooking for fifteen people every day, and raising seven children. She became a widow far too early at age fifty-four.
Her hands testify to the many hours of work and worry she has gone through.

She has been the good soul of the house ever since.

Despite a lot of hardships she persevered. “I simply had no other choice”, is what she often says when you ask her how she managed all the challenges life threw at her.
“And we survived.”

DSCI0425The kitchen is where most of her life takes place.
You can find her there early in the morning when she has her first cup of coffee before she heads out to feed her cats and chicken.
You always know when she’s busy because you can hear her soft humming – always the same three notes – in the whole house.
You will always find her working in the house or in her beautiful garden, except for an hour in the afternoon when she takes a nap in the giant armchair in the living room.

Life here is quiet. Life here is slow.

There’s a crazy loud world out there – but here there’s peace and quiet.
There are busy agendas and schedules out there – but here there’s only the right now. The work in front of you.
Like cracking walnuts for two hours and peeling the best parts out of the hard shell.
Like baking cake and learning the secrets from the best.
Like sitting down over a delicious meal and sharing what life has been like since we last saw each other.
Like listening to stories of the past and marveling at God’s grace and protection.

Life is good because I finally slow down enough to discover its little blessings in the mundane.

Grandma’s house is always open. There is a bell, but no one ever rings it. You just turn the key and enter.
This house has already seen people from all kinds of countries, continents, and lifestyles. Visitors from overseas and next door. Gran doesn’t speak any English and we have had quite a few interesting ‘lost in translation’ encounters.
Gran has never traveled much except Norway and Israel, but through the many visitors she has seen the world.

Grandma’s house is quite special.
It’s a place where you’ll always find a spare bed to rest your heavy legs.
A place where there’s always food on the table. “And if there’s not we’ll make some”, as my uncle says.
A place where someone will wait with open arms and an open ear to listen.
A place where you’ll meet a messy bunch of people I call my family.

A place you’ll never leave empty-handed, I promise.
You’ll literally have your bags packed with goods Grandma has for you. Instead of money she gives you eggs from her chicken, homemade ham and bread, even entire meals.
“It’s nothing”, she says.

But it is something.

You take a lot more away than a bag of goods. Wherever you go from here, you’ll carry stories with you.
Stories of the past that shape the present and inspire the future.
The big picture that binds us all together.
You treasure the memories for times to come.
Memories of quiet afternoons and walks around the lake in the sun.
The taste of home-cooked meals and sweet fellowship around the table.
The experience that despite all differences and distances family bonds are there to connect us all.

Grandma’s house, tucked away in this small village in the middle of nowhere, is a lot more than an old farmhouse.

It’s a piece of home.

And it will stay home as long as we decide to return and make it home.